COVID-19 vaccinations start in Germany today: What you need to know
For many, it’s the light at the end of the tunnel: the first people are to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in Germany on December 27. Here’s what you need to know about the vaccines and Germany's vaccination strategy.
Vaccinations kick off in Germany
It all kicks off this Sunday: the first people in Germany are due to be immunised this weekend, after the EU Commission granted conditional marketing approval to the Mainz-based company BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer - making it the first coronavirus vaccine that can be used in the EU.
The first 150.000 vaccine doses have already arrived in Germany, and a further 500.000 doses should be available from Monday, December 28. A total of 1,3 million doses are expected by the end of the year, according to Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn. Thereafter, at least another 670.000 jabs should arrive in Germany each week throughout January.
Who will be vaccinated first in Germany?
Top of Germany’s vaccination priority list are people aged 80 and over, as well as staff and residents at nursing homes, people working in emergency rooms, intensive care units and coronavirus wards, nurses in outpatient care and those employed by the emergency services.
This “highest priority” group comprises around 8,6 million people, all of whom should be vaccinated over the course of the next one to two months. This will be done by sending out mobile teams to nursing homes and hospitals, and via around 440 vaccination centres nationwide. Only when sufficient doses are available will non-risk groups be able get vaccinated at their local doctor’s surgery.
Will I be called up for a vaccine or do I have to request one?
Like most things in Germany, this varies hugely according to which federal state you live in. Information about the regulations in your area can be obtained by contacting your responsible health authority or regular doctor, or by calling the hotline 116 117.
For patients over the age of 80, proof of identity such as a passport or a driving licence will be enough to prove that you are eligible for the vaccine. For patients with underlying health conditions, a doctor will have to issue a certificate. Information is also available from German health insurance companies.
How many jabs do you get?
The BioNTech vaccine consists of two vaccine doses that are injected into the arm around 21 days apart. The Moderna vaccine and the other candidates that are approaching the end stages of clinical trials are also dual-dose vaccines.
When does immunity begin?
Full protection begins between four and seven weeks after the first jab. The BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine is then said to be 95 percent effective - information which has been confirmed by the European Medicines Agency.
Are there any side effects?
According to the European Medicines Agency, the most common side effects associated with the vaccine are pain and swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain, chills and fever. The Agency emphasises that these symptoms are usually “mild or moderate” and will generally improve within a few days.
So far, three cases have been reported in the USA and the UK in which allergic reactions occurred after vaccination. In the UK, people with certain medical conditions - such as those who have experienced anaphylactic shock after taking medication or ingesting foods, or patients who carry adrenaline auto-injectors - have been warned against taking the vaccine.
The EMA will also continue to review possible side effects; the manufacturer must regularly provide information on the long-term effects of the vaccine.
Do I have to get vaccinated?
No. The federal government has so far ruled out the possibility of people being obliged to get the vaccine. However, job-specific vaccination obligations are possible - for example for medical or nursing staff. If, contrary to expectations, the population’s willingness to get vaccinated remains too low - experts say a vaccination rate of around 65 percent is needed for the vaccine to be effective - then a debate about compulsory vaccination is likely to flare up.
When will Germany receive more vaccine doses?
Pretty soon. The European Medicines Agency is eyeing up January 6 as a potential date to approve the vaccine from the US manufacturer Moderna. According to the EU Commission, the AstraZeneca vaccine is also likely to receive approval in the first quarter of 2021.
The EU Commission has ordered a total of 1,3 billion vaccine doses for Germany and the other EU countries from six different providers. BioNTech will deliver 300 million doses, and Moderna 160 million. With these two vaccines alone, approximately half of the 450 million EU citizens could receive the required two doses of coronavirus vaccine.
What does the vaccine cost?
The vaccine is free for patients, but quite expensive for the federal government. In the federal budget for 2021, 2,7 billion euros have been set aside for vaccinations, but Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn expects the total cost to be closer to 6 billion euros. Each dose of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine costs 12 euros, according to the framework sales contract negotiated by the EU Commission.
This purchase price was supposed to be kept secret, but a state secretary in the Belgian government accidentally released the details. Accordingly, the Moderna vaccine is the most expensive at around 15 euros per dose. The vaccines from other manufacturers cost around 6 or 7 euros per jab, while the AstraZeneca product is the cheapest at only 1,78 euros per dose.
The cost of running the vaccination centres will not be borne by the federal government. Instead, they will be raised jointly by the statutory and private health insurance companies and the federal states.
If you want to know more about Germany’s vaccination strategy, or when you might be eligible to receive a jab, call the hotline 116 117, speak to your regular GP, or visit the website of your local health authority.